Observations From Practice 1

Football is back and the first practice of training camp under Jim Mora’s leadership has come and gone. It wasn’t the best practice you will see as there were ups-and-downs, as expected with the start of any camp, but overall, Mora was pleased. Heat was a factor in this one with several players being impacted by hydration issues and cramping.

“I think it went okay,” Mora said following practice on the outdoor fields in Storrs. “Obviously we have a lot of work to do, but the encouraging thing is this is a group of young men that want to get better. I think they’re really driven, they’re unselfish and they love hard work. I think it’s just adjusting to getting back on the field and competing with the helmet on. We’ve had a really good offseason and we’ll get better every day.”

As expected, all eyes were on the quarterback battle as Ta’Quan Roberson led the first team offense out of the gate, something he earned in the spring, being the only other scholarship quarterback that participated fully in March and April.

Tyler Phommachanh, back from injury, also saw some first team reps on day one, while Zion Turner, Cale Millen and Jacob Drena split 3rd team reps, at least to start. Turner, taking part in his first college practice, was impressive, earning a shot with the 2nd team at one point in 11:11. How’d he do? 2-for-2, including one play where the pocket broke down, he scrambled, kept his eyes downfield and found a receiver for a sliding catch, putting the ball only where his guy could get it. Promising.

Phommachanh, who wore a brace on his knee, was not impacted mobility wise and had a solid return to full participation. He earned positive comments from Mora for his performance, which included the following comment after practice, “he caught my eye, I now see firsthand why he was a starter here last year.”

Transfer Cale Millen also had his moments and displayed a strong arm, with a tight spiral on several occasions. It sounds like all four will be rotated through the 1st and 2nd team based on how they perform going forward. Prior to camp opening, Mora told ESPN Radio that he wanted to move as quickly as possible to naming a starter. After day one, several played their way into the race, which is what you want to see.

IDENTIFYING POSITIONS

Camp is all about evaluating your roster, what guys do well and what their limitations are. With 43-newcomers to the program since the end of last season, that evaluation is certainly well-underway. During practice, the staff rotated certain players into different roles, trying to identify the right place for their skillsets given scheme. This was the case on the offensive line and in the defensive secondary. It seemed Missouri transfer Chris Shearin was seen at both corner and safety. With Jake Guidone sidelined for the open of camp, Chris Fortin bounced between right tackle and center. Several others were moved inside and out on the line, as well as up-and-down with the second and third team.

Today’s first team offensive line, however, was consistently LT Valentin Senn, LG Noel Ofori-Nyadu, C Yakiri Walker (Jake Guidone is your starter), RG Christian Haynes, RT Chris Fortin. Fortin did rotate into the center spot at times, particularly after a bad shotgun snap, with Chase Lundt, back from injury and now healthy, getting the nod up with the first team.

The newcomer who stood out the most? True freshman Ben Murawski. Physically, he looks ready and was more often than not the one pushing defenders around in his matchups when he got an opportunity with the second team. He also drew the ire of offensive line coach Gordon Sammis at one point, so you could say Murawski got the full gamut in his first college practice.

TRUE FRESHMEN TO WATCH

Mentioned Turner and Murawski above, but there were others who saw opportunities on day one.

LB Donovan Branch was with the 2nd team defense quite a bit at outside linebacker. He’s physically further along body wise than expected as a true freshman.

CB Isiah Davis did see some time with the 2nd team defense.

TE Justin Joly stands out as a physical presence and wouldn’t be surprised to see him get some more opportunities going forward.

WR Kylish Hicks did get some looks in some three receiver sets with the 2nd team.

TRANSFERS SHINE

The first player on day one to immediately catch my attention was Texas transfer Dajon Harrison. It was the very start of practice and receivers were only warming up with some routes on air with the QB’s, but Harrison stood out in his route running ability; expect to hear his name throughout camp.

Brandon Bouyer-Randle looked every bit the part of what you saw on tape during his time at both Michigan State and Texas Tech. Huskies did well with the additions they brought in at linebacker.

Chris Shearin made a statement in the first matchup of 1:1’s, going up against Keelan Marion. Marion beat him off the line, but Shearin recovered nicely and made a great PBU well downfield. Speaking of Marion, no surprise, he made a great contested catch down the sideline later on in practice. Normally, oooh’s and aaah’s would have reigned down in year’s past for the play. Now? It’s become expected. Testament to the skill the Huskies now have at wide receiver.

Nigel Fitzgerald looked like he did in the spring; strong hands, consistent, big body.

DL Jelani Stafford and Jori Benson are both large individuals. The Huskies size across the d-line was eye opening. Reminiscent of the 2011 season with the amount of big bodies up front. Even true freshman Timothy Passmore stands out.

BACK FROM INJURY

Phommachanh, Myles Bell, Matt Drayton, Langston Hardy and Chase Lundt, who were all out in the spring, were back healthy.

The next open practice is Tuesday afternoon. More later, enjoy the start of the weekend.

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6 months ago
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